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Updates & insights

Are HEIs complying with their legal duty to refer individuals to the DBS?

One of the most common issues we find when reviewing our HE clients' safeguarding arrangements is that while their 'on-boarding' Safe Recruitment processes are well-established for both staff and students, their 'off-boarding' processes often fail to consider an important legal duty to refer certain individuals to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).



The requirement to refer individuals to the DBS was introduced in 2006 in order to improve the tracking of people who may be deemed unsuitable to work with children and adults at risk. Within universities and other higher education institutions, this duty applies to both staff (including volunteers) and students involved in “regulated activity”.


The duty, alongside a range of other recommendations, was intended to address the safe recruitment process flaws identified by the Soham murder inquiry – the Bichard Inquiry - which highlighted Ian Huntley’s ability to secure a school caretaker role despite numerous historical allegations of sexual offences against children in his native Humberside.


Supporting higher education institutions with their legal duty

Thumbnail image of the front cover of the guide

The surveys we conduct as part of our service reviews - which test levels of awareness across several key areas of safeguarding - repeatedly show a lack of knowledge about this legal duty, even among employees involved in managing staff and student disciplinary procedures, including Fitness to Practise processes.


As a result, we’ve produced a short Good Practice Guide for HEIs which gives an overview of the duty, the circumstances which should lead you to consider a referral, signposts to further information and shares our recommendations on the next steps you can take to improve your compliance with the duty.


To access our PDF Good Practice Guide on this specific aspect of safeguarding practice, use the link below:

Higher Education Institutions and the Legal Duty to Refer to the DBS - Good Practice Guide
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Download • 144KB

An accessible version of this guide is also available below:

Higher Education Institutions and the Legal Duty to Refer to the DBS - Good Practice Guide
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Download • 105KB

If you would prefer, you can also receive an email that includes a link to the PDF guide:


Exploring the definition of safeguarding

As well as this good practice guide, we also delivered an online discussion event titled “Defining safeguarding in higher education” on Wednesday 26th July. It was introduced and facilitated by specialist trainer and consultant, Susan O’Donnell, and was an opportunity to explore and share experiences of how safeguarding should dovetail with other key aspects of the work of an HEI. A briefing note created following the event is now available, summarising the key information from the event and including some of observations from those that participated in the discussion is now available.


Looking for further support?


We have an upcoming half-day online ticketed event - Safeguarding for student-facing staff in higher education - on Wednesday 13th March 2024. This condensed session focuses on identifying safeguarding concerns when working with students and responding appropriately within higher education's legal and regulatory context. This course is on a par with Level 2 safeguarding courses, when compared to the 'Level' accreditation that applies in Healthcare settings, and covers both U18s and Adults at Risk within the context of HE.


We also offer this session as a ready-to-run training, delivered at a time that works for you and your cohort - see our Ready-to-Run Training page for more information.


You're welcome to contact us with any requirements you have or subscribe to our mailing list to be kept up to date on our latest updates, insights and events.



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